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Future models - Mercedes-Benz - E-class - All-Terrain

Mercedes E-Class All-Terrain luxury wagon’s last stand

One and only: Mercedes will offer just one version of the E-Class Estate in Australia and it will be the All-Terrain.

Utility and fashion fuse as Mercedes tries to reverse plummeting global wagon sales

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Mercedes-Benz logo7 Dec 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MERCEDES-BENZ admits the adoption of an all-wheel-drive crossover variant for its latest E-Class Estate is a last-ditch attempt to lure fashion-conscious buyers back to the large luxury wagon segment.

Shortening the gap on the dominating luxury SUVs with higher ground clearance, tougher off-road styling details and all-wheel drive, the E220d All-Terrain will be the sole version of the E-Class Estate when sales commence in Australia later in the second quarter of next year.

“Mercedes-Benz recognises that globally large luxury wagons like this are under pressure,” according to Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy.

“This is why the All-Terrain exists… and why it will probably be the only E-Class Estate we offer in Australia for now.”

Despite clear visual differences, the All-Terrain shares more than 95 per cent of its parts with the Estate, which is now in its sixth generation. From an engineering point of view, the crossover’s exhaust catalyst had to move from the back of the vehicle to the engine bay, the suspension components were extensively modified to accommodate the taller-walled 19- and 20-inch wheel and tyre packaging, and almost all of the anti-crash systems had to be revised.

Work on the S213-series wagon commenced a short time after the W213 sedan was completed in 2012, and the goal was to tone down the squareness without losing the segment-leading load capacity that is central to the series’ large luxury wagon appeal – a reputation garnered since the first S123 T-series surfaced in the late 1970s.

In the All-Terrains’ case, the ground clearance was jacked-up by 29mm, the grille features a louvered grille design, the bumpers have been beefed up with rugged air intakes and extra chrome surrounds, black plastic trim skirts the lower sills and wheel arches, and higher-sidewall tyres on unique 19 or 20-inch alloys are fitted.

Standard air suspension means ground clearance can vary between 121mm and 156mm depending on which of the four driving modes is selected, while an ‘All-Terrain’ setting lifts the ride by another 20mm at speeds of up to 35km/h.

According to Daimler AG exterior designer Thomas Salzle, Mercedes had to literally think outside of the box, because while the latest wagon had to look sexier, it could not compromise utility.

“We call this concept ‘raumfahrzenge,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the E-Class All-Terrain in Austria late last month. “It means having more space than it appears … or space travel.”

To that end, the E-Class Estate’s daylight opening shape curves down on a steeper angle than the sheetmetal does, giving the impression of a tighter and sleeker coupe-like silhouette. Yet, from 640 litres with the rear seats up to 1820 litres with the backrests folded, the Mercedes easily eclipses its Audi A6 Avant and BMW 5 Series Touring competitors, as well as the all-new Volvo V90 also out in the middle of next year.

That rear backrest, by the way, reclines and splits 40:20:40, and can also now be raked an additional 10 degrees over the item in the preceding S212 Estate, liberating another 30 litres behind the rear seat. When dropped, the wagon can now fit a standard European pallet (1200mm by 800mm by 1440mm) whole.

If this all sounds like function was prioritised over form, Mr Salzle said that the painstaking detail work went into infusing elegance into the model’s shape, starting with getting the proportions spot-on.

Part of that involved ensuring that the radius of the lower window line remained horizontal, since the lower door skins are shared with the sedan to contain costs the same also applies to the side ‘tension’ crease that runs through the door handles, which don’t bend downwards as acutely as in the smaller C-Class Estate and there is a very pronounced curvature in the surfacing of the side panels, making it “… one of the roundest cars that we have,” according to designer, who has previously worked for the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Hyundai.

Mercedes’ decision to employ elongated lozenge-like tail-lights are an attempt to add some sedan-like class to the wagon not only do their horizontal shape add width to the rear, the surrounding sheet-metal and chrome upper strip connecting each lamp are designed to impart “premiumnness”.

Over at the front of the All-Terrain, the redesigned bumper’s lower air intakes are segmented with protruding aerofoils and thick chrome lipstick finishes at to appear three-dimensional and more aggressive the chromed grille features cheese-grater twin bars for a more rugged look the Three-Pointed Star logo is meant to suggest an SUV and the newcomer is also the first Mercedes in production with the redesigned wreath plaque roundel.

Finally, while Mr Salzle admitted that the raised ride height and plastic cladding meant that the All-Terrain is paying lip-service to crossover convention honed in the marketplace since the time of the pioneering Subaru Outback (1994), Volvo V70 Cross Country (1997) and Audi A6 Allroad (1998), his team did try to push the envelope out slightly with much larger and chunkier roof racks.

“But we couldn’t get those through,” he said. “So we had to use these smaller bars instead.”

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